Amanda J. Bradley
You gave me a fishbowl.
You watched as I oohed,
as I pressed my face nearly flush
with the transparent surface.
between my cornea and the glass,
as if I could see more clearly
a unique perspective expanded.
From there, I could watch
the curve of the line,
the surface and the depth,
the textured patterns of the gills,
the fish awfully breathing
smoothly swimming into parts of the bowl
where space distorted
as I watched the fish become
in just seconds.
Trying to explain gender
role stereotypes to men who hit
with every twinge of emotion.
Its hard to enter anothers
paradigm, unleash a shift,
especially when they feel
smoking pot is the best way
to rinse a soul.
They admit their tear ducts
dried up, and they go
like cups of coffee.
They assert their jive
about hurting to be alive
but theyd rather face a fist
than their feelings,
except the one clenching
Afraid theyll uncover
terror like the father
that beat all the understanding
out of them,
or just convinced them
Youre a worthless piece of shit!
No longer able to cry
by age six.
Theyre wives heard it and felt it
and bled it until they left it
in them, accepting it
like daily trips
down the stairs.
D. R. Harris
Three suitors vied for the hand of the princess. The first proved the strongest, the second the richest, and the third the most cunning.
The princess asked the court wizard to reveal their true nature. The first turned to a demon, the second vanished, the third became king.
D. R. Harris
The maiden slaved and scrimped to buy her mother a golden necklace for her birthday. Her mother strived to feed three children, and deserved something nice!
The maiden stopped at a blind mother and her small child. She dropped her earrings in the mothers cup, and said a thankful prayer.
Amy B. Barone
Did it begin in Italy in the shadow of La Maiella where a young man trudged down unpaved roads in search of a better life, a bigger world, new prospects for love and work
Leaving behind brothers and sisters with whom hed never again share a meal or a laugh or a hug
Resolved to set stakes in an unseen land and never look back
How does New York fit in where a mismatched couple met and married at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
An unassuming truck driver with his driven wife who taught English to immigrant children while raising eight offspring
East Harlem residents for years until they were enticed away to a street of row homes filled with paesani
Or are the true origins Pennsylvania where another mismatched couple met and married
An ambitious hardware merchant with his English teacher wife who quit work to raise three daughters
Depression-era parents who knew how to stretch a dime, worked hard at everything, instilled values and morals, but found time for travel and play
Why the lure to Italy? To know them better, to learn their language, to walk the roads now paved
Where the secrets unraveled of how to be an Italian, how to be an American
And you couldnt stay forever as hard as you tried - like them, always looking ahead to new opportunities
Have you now come full circle, dropping anchor in New York, a place that overwhelmed you as a child
Inhabiting a multicultural universe where no one invites you over for an espresso or suggests a lake ride on a quiet Sunday afternoon
Where you struggle like those who came before, but no paesano holds out a hand
Some might think there are those who are better than others.
The weather prediction called for rain, lots and lots of it. It is a historical fact that the Ark was captained by an old man with a long white beard by the name of Noah. Before the rains came he sailed around the world and rounded up a male and female of every kind of creature he could find. He was commanded to do this so they would not drown or become an endangered species. First to come aboard the ark were the bigger animals like the hippos and elephants and the rhinoceroses. He put them in the middle of the boat to give it stability. Next came the animals that were still large but didnt weigh quite so much. Giraffes, horses, cows, donkeys, ostriches and bears. Noah had to create a special section for animals that were dangerous so he caged off one end of the ark for the lions and tigers and wolves. Once the major loading was done he let the rest of the animals just run and jump on board to find places wherever they could. Imagine the wild mayhem of the squirrels and pigs and rabbits and foxes and weasels and skunks and possums and raccoons and lambs and sheep as they pushed and shoved and scrambled aboard. They squeaked and squealed and hissed as they found a spot either on the covered deck or in a dark corner below.
There was no need to be concerned about the ducks and swans and eagles and the thousands of colorful birds because they could just fly above the dark, rain-filled clouds. The fish and clams and starfish and dolphins and alligators were in seventh heaven (pardon the pun) frolicking in the rising waters.After several days under the constant downpour the passengers became restless. The monkeys jumped up on the roof and climbed in and out of the windows, other small animals were getting underfoot of the four-legged beasts and everyone was bumping into one another.
There were heated discussions and arguments and competition amongst the lot. Finally, the horses and buffaloes organized races on deck so they could stay in shape, followed by the gazelles and deer, a race that was over in about ten seconds. The ostriches and the kangaroos stumbled to finish the three-legged gunny sack race, which brought gales of laughter from the animal gallery.
But, you know how animals are. They sleep a lot, thank God for that; otherwise they never would have endured those wet and wild days and nights.After forty days and forty nights of torrential rains the Ark finally came to rest on a point of land between a river called the Potomac and a large bay of salt water identified as the Chesapeake Bay. The Ark had run aground in the very shallowest place on the eastern coast of a great continent.
Finally, the sun came out from behind the clouds, the ramp was lowered so the animals could disembark and get their feet on solid ground again. The old captain of the boat was very happy when he took role call and knew that everyone had survived.
The scene was one of mass confusion, absolute bedlam. A large number of the animals decided to get back on the Ark and demanded that Noah take them back to Africa. However, the elephants missed the boat. The tigers roared with startling authority, Take us to India, neow! The mountain lions and foxes started chasing the rabbits and deer and sheep, scattering the poor devils into hiding. The cows went one way, moose another.
All sense of organization was lost until finally there were only two sets of species left on this countryside with a hill right in the middle of it.The donkeys brayed at the elephants, shouting they were much too big and powerful to stay. Go back where you belong, they said.
Sorry folks, the elephants trumpeted to Mr. And Mrs. Donkey. Were big and powerful and were going to stay. So get off our hill. And by the way, our last name is Republican.
Well, in that case, we are not going to be far away, replied Mrs. Donkey with a haughty tone. Were agile and stubborn and tenacious. We are the Democrat family.
Dr Linda L Bielowski
Waiting for Dark
Opaque, ebony, rayless, cinder, sable-lacquered
Sealed eyes shut, coffin lid closed
Wishes dangling from wormwood stars
Turning a mental mobile in
A slipstream of flashbacks, perforated negatives,
Portraits of past lives, lives passed in
Peeling faces of living lost
Hovering overhead my Procrustean bed of
Ill-fit, ill-fate, feeling flat with the
Flatness of the earth before it
Became round and ripe from the apple
Bitten of knowledge plucked
From the tree of heaven
Leaving me separate in this Land of Nod
Limbs frozen as deadly nightshade sitting
On the windowsill of my waiting and wishing
Listening for the night creature of
Bone-chilling gloom with
Heart of pitiless iron wrenching
Until the world of light perishes
Beneath thunderous hooves of
Thanatos, my redeemer, riding his
Pale horse in apocalyptic calypso
Across Orion, moving on
To trample mustard moon and saffron sun
With the Grim Reapers scythe
Slashing the last of my lifelines
While Cerberus bellows at the
Entrance to Hades, the doorway to death
Restless, eternal, and waiting
With my sarcophagus decorated by
Nephilim who caress unstrung harps
While waving to Helios who never
Casts his light on death wishes
Falling into me
I know the quiet that
Deafens with its soliloquy of
Solace and solitude as
Thanatos, the trickster, laughs the
Sound of many waters for
He knows death comes from
Wading in his
Dark and drowning sea
Small brown men
(It sells itself.)
THEORY OF NOTHING CHAPTER 2
THE CONCEPTUAL THEORY OF EVERYTHING
By Kenneth C. Eng
The very name of the Theory of Everything strikes interest in the minds of most people, from the doltish to the brilliant. However, the vast majority of the human population does not truly understand the mathematics behind supersymmetry, superstring theory, quantum mechanics and general relativity. How then, would this discovery be accessible and/or demonstrable to the masses without the use of countless lectures on differential equations and linear algebra? For that matter, why should the ultimate truth behind everything be represented wholly in terms of numerical equations?
Why cant the Theory of Everything be manifested in the form of a non-mathematical concept?
Quantum mechanics and relativity are currently the dominant paradigms that scientists use to describe the universe. Much to their despair, unfortunately, these two models are completely disparate, what with relativity being applicable only to the macrocosm and quantum mechanics being solely relevant to the microcosm. When one tries to unite the mathematical laws of these two fields, they clash, rendering physical calculations and established formulae meaningless in tides of abhorred infinities and zeroes. These discrepancies are fatal to an understanding of a Theory of Everything, for there can only exist one paradigm in the end.
Perhaps it is the nature of man to seek exactitude, or the fact that so many previous unifications in the world of physics were crafted by math (James Clerk Maxwells electromagnetism and the Schrodinger Wave Equation, to name two) that drives so many physicists define their cosmos in terms of numbers and equalities. One must keep in mind, however, that some of the greatest advances in physics were brought about by conceptual thought as opposed to sheer numerical analyzing. Richard Feynman, for instance, constructed quantum electrodynamics by twiddling with tinker toys and doodles. The Theory of Relativity was first sparked when Albert Einstein pondered about travelling at light speed. Even the most basic of rules, Newtons theories of motion, were spawned from their creators reflections on falling objects and the appearance of the moon in the sky. Clearly, the most strategic aspects of mathematics lie in its applications to the real world.
So why do so many physicists labor at their differential equations when they should be asking Ð do the physical rules we know of necessarily portray our world at all times? By the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it is completely illogical to declare that the future macrocosm will behave exactly as the laws of relativity dictate. In fact, it is absolutely silly to assume that the premises of conventional relativity theory are true and that the laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe. No one can say for certain that the speed of light will not suddenly drop from 3*108 m/s to 5 mph by the time you finish reading this sentence. Furthermore, since observation sculpts reality at the quantum level, no one can state that atoms exist when we are not examining them. For all a man can know, every subatomic particle might transform into dancing microscopic chess pieces while we are not directly studying them.
As absurd as these possibilities sound, they are just as silly as the assumptions that one cannot travel faster than light or that e will always equal mc2. Most would respond by pointing out that experiments and inductive reasoning verify scientific beliefs, but that answer does not solve anything with 100% certainty. Induction, the use of past occurrences to predict the probability of future occurrences, is an unfounded assumption in itself, as it actually relies on induction to be proven. Such circular reasoning does not hold in the realm of reasoning and certainly should not hold in the world of science. An experiment can only take us so far, for it cannot with utter certitude assure that the cosmos will always act as it did in one particular moment in spacetime. Thus, one must seriously consider why physicists should labor so arduously on equations that are based on unwarranted constants and assumptions that if disproved or altered at any point could spell doom for hundreds of years of observational research.
What then, can be known with fundamental definiteness? Logic is an apparent element that must always exist, for it simply cannot be disproved. Space and time are surely constants, as the universe would not have a reason to be without volumetric substance to move in and temporal parameters for causal events to take place. Thus, the macrocosm must always be a part of reality, since size would always be relative to a conscious observer, and there would always be a large-scale realm in which he/she lives. Along with the large-scale space, there must be a small-scale space composed of infinitely tiny, immeasurable points. Because nothing outside of direct observation is certain, these miniscule points would contain uncertain and limitless possibilities. Thus, they would comprise the microcosm.
The macrocosm, in addition, would also be as uncertain as the microcosm, as it too is built of these boundlessly minute zero-dimensional points. Since both of them are essentially occupying the same space and time, they are in fact united just by their spatial and temporal placements. It is possible that the large-scale universe could be warped in any conceivable way, and by the indefiniteness of the microcosm, it is also possible that the small-scale universe could be changed in innumerable fashions.
Yet, there must be a catalyst to alter the fabric of this simplified version of the cosmos. That catalyst would then be the only other element that must always exist Ð consciousness. Nothing outside of consciousness can be real, as the ability to experience the universe is what defines the entities that one can truly classify as extant. Therefore, awareness must be the factor that shapes the moldable substance of the macrocosm and microcosm united, acting as both an observer and creator.
In essence, the macrocosm and microcosm are analogous to relativity and quantum mechanics, respectively. Amidst the laws of the universe that most assume to be true, relativity still shows that space and time are changeable according to ones physical state and that ones perception of passing moments may not always be the same as those of another observer. Similarly, quantum mechanics exhibits that subatomic particles and waves only exist when observed and that the mere act of perceiving them changes their state. Since both the quantum and relativistic realms occupy the same cosmos, they are indeed two faces of the same whole, and they are united in the fact that quantum mechanics and relativity rely on perception to create reality.
While this appears to have nothing to do with the workings of strings or the collisions of membranes, it does offer possible implications for what the mathematical Theory of Everything might ultimately describe. After all, for what purpose would mathematics exist if not to extrapolate meaning and convey ideas for conscious beings? Chaos theory frequently tries to discover why events occur as they do, but it fails to incorporate the idea that perhaps the ultimate force that drives all things in the cosmos is the will of an organism to perceive a desired reality.
Again, this supports the notion that the concept is the overlying factor that guides every equation. String theory, to date, requires eleven dimensions (seven of which are balled up in extraordinarily small loops so that we cant experience them), and even predicts sometimes that clashing branes can lead to the formation of multiple Big Bangs and parallel universes. Parallel universes were also conjectured by quantum physics long before the emergence of string theory, as some believe that the famous laser slit experiment all physicists are familiar with actually occurs because of an infinite number of interacting cosmoses. Since no one can claim that the future, or even the past, is governed by the laws most physicists accept, and that anything beyond what is observed is real, it is not completely ludicrous to assert that all the possibilities of the limitless multiverse can be conjured up at the whim of a dream. What is a dream but the perception of another universe? What is perception but the creation of reality and the force that binds the two faces of the celestial sea? Perhaps chaos theorys underlying concept is that disorder is an inherent part of the cosmos that exists as a result of the multiverse.
Further, research on the Theory of Everything detests the usage of infinities and zeroes, which are considered mathematical abominations that only disrupt the order of an otherwise harmonious equation. Most physicists tend to work these difficult values out of their theories by creating new paradigms that are free of them. However, as it may be convenient just to shovel anomalies under the carpet, this strategy might be hindering the progress of finding the perfect equation by blinding physicists from the potentiality of zero and infinity to be essential to our comprehension of the cosmos. Infinity, whether one likes it or not, does in fact exist, and is even the value for the number of universes that can potentially exist in a limitlessly changeable reality. Zero is also a real numeral that is innate to the idea of an ideal vacuum (zero particles or waves). Yet, while physicists slap on constants to their formulae that may or may not have an effect on the future universe if it suddenly decides to mutate, they refuse to acknowledge that maybe unification will not reveal itself in the form of numerals until we figure out how to live with the simple truth that INFINITY AND ZERO DO EXIST. QUIT TRYING TO GET RID OF THEM.
One problem with the conceptualization of infinity that disturbs many is that of Zenos paradox. This paradox states that if an object, lets say a sword, were cast into the air, it should never be able to come back to the ground. The reasoning is that there are an infinite amount of divisions of distance between it and the ground, resulting in an endless amount of space and its inability to move through the air at all. The riddle has other perturbing implications, like the conclusion that since the universe and every object within it is composed of an unlimited amount of points, nothing should be distinguishable, time should not move forward, and existence should not even exist amid the fog of duality. Indeed, these thoughts are rather maddening, as swords still fall to the ground, clocks still tick, humans can be separated from chess pieces, and the universe remains real. The reason why the cosmic machine keeps turning is because we have merely misunderstood infinity.
Implementing limits, which most people learned of in high school, it is easier to fathom why Zeno was wrong. As the majority of the population knows, limits converge the results of sequences/equations into finite numbers that can be more easily handled. Correspondingly, all entities in the cosmos may themselves be drawn to finiteness by viewing them not as measurable objects (everything has a countless number of points and is thus infinite in size), but as impressions. Think of a painting by Claude Monet, littered with ephemeral wisps and blended colors, having none of its objects and visions clearly defined by hard-edged bounds. Perhaps we and all other entities are like the figures in a gestured drawing, appearing only as essences that induce sensations in the eyes and ears of those conscious to experience us. By this reasoning, we are in fact not much different from the numbers we operate with.
Hence, since we are measurable only by essence and not by numerals in exactitude, there should be no denial that infinity must be incorporated into the equations of the Theory of Everything. All finite numbers are irrelevant in describing us, for all that truly and simplistically exists are ghostly gestures that do not have any precise lengths, breadths or widths. The same applies to the speed of light, the force of gravity, the Planck Constant, and any other experimentally derived value.
Zero too, has its predicaments, yet as infinity before it, it can be rid of them. Nothingness in itself is rather hostile to apprehensible logic, as no one really agrees on the output of 2/0. Nor can anyone really determine what 00, 0/0 or log 2 0 = x come out to. Strangely, though, mostly every mathematician agrees that 20 = 1 and that the square root of Ð1 equals the imaginary number i. These equalities are, again, merely presuppositions that were designed simply to add convenience to problem solving. Some say that 2/0 is undefined, but why then, would I not say that 20 is also undefined? After all, if 22 = 2*2 = 4 and 21 = 2, then 20 would not have any integer at all, and thus be nil. The imaginary number i does not even make any sense, for the entire purpose of the square root function is to produce two identical factors. If i can be summoned from nowhere, anyone could also state that x/0 = Sapphira, 00 = Dennagon and 0/0 = Drekkenoth. Then we can all write Sapphira = (i(Dennagon)/Drekkenoth)/0, which means absolutely nothing.
While it may sound strange, one of these mathematical oddities can have many answers, but these answers rely on the defining of conceptual attributes. X/0 is an expression that, by itself, does not mean anything. Do we mean that x is divided by an infinite amount of zero-dimensional points? If so, then the solution would clearly be infinity. However, if we mean 0 to represent nothingness, then no entity can be divided by nothing, and thus, the equation would be undefined (much like having a friend call you to ask for your phone number). Apparently, relativity permeates even this mathematical puzzle, for the value of this problem, x/0, is dependent on what the denominator symbolizes. Ergo, zero is merely a substitute, or a poorly named variable that can emblematize many ideas in the real world, but has no real meaning in the world of integers, complex numbers, and differential equations as a whole. When the same logic is applied to infinity, it too is revealed to be in a similar state to zero.
That is not to say that I am contradicting myself and that mathematics should not include these anomalies. What is suggested by these attributes of infinity and zero is that they are links between the numbers on the chalkboard and the physical entities that constitute the universe. Perchance, this could be a sign that physics needs to extend beyond the constants that sightlessly bind theoreticians to shackles of unfounded numerals and embrace the possibility that infinity and zero are both mathematical values and conceptual traits of universal entities simultaneously. Perhaps a greater riddle than the unification of quantum mechanics and relativity would be the unification of logical equations with the physical cosmos.
Indeed, the quest for the Theory of Everything is one led by the valiant humans that are willing to spend their lives searching for the truth. However, as many of them are aware of, it probably will not be the end of their journey, as knowledge is not necessarily an objective in and of itself. As both faces of the cosmos hint that perception is the underlying force that guides the heavenly tides, we must learn to control our perceptions in order to unveil the shadow of mystery that beclouds the secrets we seek. Many who cannot understand the workings of advanced mathematics might be able to at least glimpse the grand scheme of unifications purport if conceptualization is properly elucidated. Howbeit, lie it in the darkness of the microcosm and macrocosm united or within the depths of infinity or zero unknown, the Theory of Everything is out there to be discovered, and it will be found by conscious beings who are capable enough to envision it. After all, a universe without a purpose is one not worth existing.
Amanda J. Bradley
The tidal wave gathers
Green grass waits
in the infants stomach.
Do eyes really pop?
The dead leaf
line dirt streets.
Do cages really rattle?
By Sean Baron
Mark opened his eyes and listened.
Someone in the house was screaming.
Someone else was beating on his bedroom door.
He glanced at the alarm clock he kept next to his bed and saw that it was flashing twelve oclock over and over again in bright amber digits. The power must have gone out again, and he knew at once that Jenna had blown a fuse.
She was always doing that, plugging too many things into the bathroom outlet at one time while she got ready to go out for the night. It was an old house, built long before things like electric hair dryers and curling irons were even thought of and you just couldnt overload the circuit like that. If you did, youd find yourself creeping down into the dark basement hoping there was still a good fuse left in the little yellow box his father had kept on top of the electrical panel.
With the power out, Marks mother had probably blown her own fuse, especially if she was watching Carson at the time. Martha Jones loved Johnny Carson and she had spent every weeknight of the past fifteen years with him. It was, as far as Mark could tell, the longest lasting relationship she had ever had with a man.
He sighed heavily and sat up. Ignoring the scream was useless, and trying to sleep with that incessant banging on his door even more so. Sooner or later, whoever was knocking would get tired and just break the damn thing down. It was just a cheap door with a hollow center and the lock had been pried open by his mother and sister so many times that it barely held anymore.
He let his feet dangle off the edge of the bed for a moment while he scraped sleep out of his eyes and waited for his mind to clear. He had always been a heavy sleeper, and waking up was not something he could do quickly no matter what the circumstances. Sometimes he woke up not knowing who or where he was. Sometimes he woke up trembling and paranoid. Sometimes he woke up swinging.
As his eyes cleared, he reached for the reading lamp he kept on the nightstand and turned the knob. It was a dim light, no more than twenty five watts, but the light seared his eyes and he found himself squinting into the glare for several minutes until he was finally able to take in the familiar surroundings of his bedroom.
The room was small with just a few pieces of furniture; the bed, a desk, and a dresser. Several rows of paperback books lined some shelves he had hung in one corner and beneath them sat his comic books in four neatly stacked columns. Above the dresser, above everything in the room, hung the painting.
His eyes rested on the painting for a moment and then returned to his bookshelves, skimming over the titles. They had been shelved first by size, then alphabetically and not a single spine had been creased. His friends all said he was anal about the books, and though he wasnt completely sure what that meant, he was pretty sure it was an insult. It didnt matter what they thought though, he had always been meticulous about his books, and at times like these, looking at them soothed him somehow.
The neatly lined rows showed him that life could be structured and orderly, peaceful even. The books were proof that chaos didnt have to be the rule rather than the exception. If that meant he was anal, fine, he could live with that. The screams coming through the thin wall seemed to argue against that line of thought though, and the constant banging on his door made it even harder to believe, but he knew it was true.
His eyes drifted past the shelves and then returned to the painting. He found no hope of peace in that particular work of art, no promise of structure. All he found on that black velvet canvas was a grim reminder of real life. His life anyway, where chaos was the rule, and until he was old enough to fend for himself in the world, he would just have to deal with it.
Where his mother had found the horrible thing and what had possessed her to buy it for him was a mystery, but it had hung on the wall since they had moved into the house in 1974. He was almost ten years old now, and though he had been forced to look at the awful thing for the past five years, he was still not used to it. He had tried to take it down several times in the past, but she kept hanging it back up. And each time he took it down, he was punished more severely for it. Worse than the punishment though, worse than any punishment, was her trying to rationalize it for him.
Its art Mark, She would say. And someday youll appreciate it. She said the same thing about the nude woman hanging in their living room. That was the painting all his friends wanted to come and see. No body ever wanted to come and look at the clown.
His sisters voice, panicky and out of breath interrupted his thoughts. Wake up Mark! Wake up! She cried. You have to call the police!
All right, all right, shut up already. Im coming! He shrieked. Jesus H. Christ! He knew immediately that he had been too harsh, and wished he could have taken back the words, or at least changed the tone of them. Laney was in the same boat he was in, and three years younger. She didnt need him taking out his anger on her.
He stood up and unlocked the door, pausing briefly to look back at the clown hanging above his dresser. It was a sad clown, one badly in need of a shave and smoking a stubby little cigar. A single tear ran from each dark and hungry eye, and when his mother had hung it up, she had said it reminded her of Red Skelton. Mark didnt know who Red Skelton was, but sometimes when he had trouble sleeping, he thought he could see the clowns skull glowing red beneath the painted on frown and it scared him.
The painting had always scared him in fact. Something in those dark eyes was unsettling. Clowns were supposed to be fun. Clowns were supposed to be silly. There was nothing fun or silly about that clown. That clown looked like it wanted to eat Mark for breakfast.
Art! He scoffed, shaking his head. He pulled the door closed, deliberately harder than he needed to, hoping the damn thing would fall off the wall and shatter. That wouldnt end it though, he knew that as well as he knew his own name. His mother would either reframe the black velvet, or have it sown into a pillow for him and that was something he would not be able to deal with. Sleeping under the thing was bad enough, but having to lay his head on it night after night? The thought made him cringe.
The bright light of the outer hall was harder for his eyes to adjust to. There were three small wall sconces in the hall, and his mother insisted on putting 100 watt bulbs in each of them. The hallway was short, only fifteen feet long, and the resulting glare was blinding.
He looked across the hall and saw Laney slinking silently back into her own room. Theyre going to kill each other. She whispered and then quietly closed the door on him. He heard her sliding the bolt into place, the sound of it clicking shut saddened him. No one should have to live like this, he thought, having to lock your bedroom doors at night against your own mother. It was insane, yet it was how it had always been.
Mark paused at Laneys door. Good. He answered, though he knew she was already back in her bed. Maybe then well get some sleep.
Plastered on the outside of her door was a Woodsy the Owl sticker just above eye level. Give a hoot, It said. Dont Pollute and it covered a splintered hole his mother had made with her fist the last time Laney had locked herself in. His eye lingered on the cartoon owl, not wanting to move the rest of the way down the hall. Youre too late Woodsy, He said to himself. Shit flows down hill and our house is at the bottom of a valley.
It was one of his fathers sayings and though he knew shit and pollution were not quite the same things, they were close enough. The sentiment was the same at least, and he thought his father would agree, were he still around. No one, his mother included or so she claimed, knew where Dennis Jones was. He supposedly went out for cigarettes one night and never came back. But Mark thought it sounded like a bad cliché. His father didnt even smoke.
He turned right and continued down the hall to where the remaining two rooms of the houses second floor sat across from each other. Both doors were open, the lights in each room on. The padlock to Jennas room lay on the floor in pieces, its clasp had been cut and it looked dead.
Maybe there was more here than just a blown fuse, Mark thought. He poked his head in to his mothers room but didnt dare enter. No one was allowed inside that room, and besides, the room was obviously empty. The bed was still made, and the television set on the bureau wasnt even on.
He turned to Jennas door and froze. The window was open and the screen had been kicked out. The curtains blew inward like ghosts held down by invisible chains. They should be blowing outward, he thought. If he were those curtains, he would certainly be trying to leave the room.
His mother was straddling Jenna, struggling to hold her down, her face red with rage. There were veins standing out in her neck and temples as she pushed her weight down onto Jenna and she was sweating despite the cold air coming in through the open window. It was January and the temperature outside hadnt been above ten degrees in the past two weeks.
Jenna lay on her back struggling. She was trying to fight back, but was at a disadvantage. Martha Jones was a big woman and Jenna was not strong enough to withstand the added weight on her chest. Plus, Mark saw that his mother was trying to stuff something into Jennas mouth, a rolled up sock or maybe a wash rag, making it hard for Jenna to breath. The sock was covered with blood.
Dont just stand there, help me! His mother screamed.
Mark could only shake his head. Help you, he thought, help you what? Kill her?
Mark, shes biting me!
What do you want me to do? Mark screamed. Im only nine! The response seemed like a logical one, but as the words echoed in his mind he knew it had made no sense.
Martha Jones looked over at her only son, hatred growing in her eyes. She wont stop screaming Mark, and if she wont stop screaming, I have to shut her up!
Jenna took advantage of Marks distraction and twisted violently under his mother, sending the big woman rolling off of her and onto the floor. Jenna sprang to her feet and leaped head first through the open window. Both Mark and his mother reached for Jenna instinctively, but they were equally too slow. His mother, who was closer, brushed one of Jennas calves with her fingers, but Jenna was already gone. She hadnt even screamed.
Mark had though. He had screamed as he reached for her and was still screaming. His outstretched hands had come nowhere near Jennas body, his fingers only grasped emptily at the space where his sister had been.
He stepped forward and leaned out of the open window still screaming and still reaching. Jenna had already landed and Mark was amazed at how quickly her body slammed into the ground. They were only two stories up, but Jenna had dropped like a stone, her head hitting the frozen ground almost as soon as her feet had cleared the window sill. He knew from her sprawled position on the ground, the way her legs were caught up in the branches of a small shrub beneath the window and the way her head was twisted on her neck, that she was already dead.
Why didnt you stop her Mark? She was biting me! His mother turned him around and held out her hand for Mark to see. He glanced down briefly, but said nothing. There were small indentations from Jennas teeth just below the first knuckle of her first two fingers and a smear of blood on her hand but that had come from Jennas mouth. The skin on his mothers fingers had not even been broken.
Well, I hope the bleeding stops before the police get here. If they see that Im bleeding, theyll ask questions. She said this in a calm, matter of fact tone of voice, as if nothing at all had happened. It appeared to Mark that this woman he had depended on for so much over the course of his life didnt even seem to care that her own daughter had just plummeted to her death. Now, go check on your sister and see if you can get her into the house.
Mark looked back out the window at the sprawled shape of his sister and then turned to his mother. I think shes dead, Mom. I think you killed her.
His mother only shrugged. Ah, well, maybe youre right. She was trouble anyway Mark, you know that. Didnt you see my fingers?
Mark shook his head and started walking back to his room in silence. He could hear the wail of approaching sirens and wondered if this was the end of the nightmare or just a new beginning.
He closed his bedroom door, and sat down heavily on his bed. He could feel tears brimming behind his eyes. He wondered what would possibly come next. Jenna had been the one butting heads with their mother for the past several months, and she had been taking most of the heat. With her gone, Mark could only imagine where the fury would now be directed. Would Laney be considered trouble in the coming months, or would he?
As he wrestled with his tears, he spotted the painting still hanging above his dresser. It had not fallen off the wall and smashed as he had hoped. Instead, it seemed more vibrant than ever, uglier too. It looked to be the same clown, but there was something different as well. Something in the painting had changed.
Downstairs he heard the doorbell ring, and then his mother talking with someone. It was probably the police or the paramedics, he didnt know which and found he didnt really care. Jenna was dead, and he knew nothing would bring her back just as he knew nothing would happen to his mother.
She would be able to talk her way out of this the same way she had talked her way out of so many other jams in the past. Crazy people were good at talking their way out of jams it seemed, and his mother was no exception. Mostly it was minor stuff like traffic tickets and unpaid bills. Sometimes, though, it was bigger stuff. Like the time she had killed the neighbors dog for barking.
Mark lay back against his pillow and looked up at that ugly clown. Its dark eyes, which had always seemed so distant and uncaring, were now locked on his. He rolled slightly to the right, and then back to the left, watching as its eyes followed him. He had experienced this with other paintings, and knew it was just an illusion, but the clowns eyes had never followed him before. They had always seemed fixed.
He stood up and walked to the other side of the room to see if he was just imagining it.
Those eyes followed him wherever he went. It wasnt until he reached the far corner that Mark realized that it wasnt just the clowns eyes following his movements, but its whole head. The movement was slight, but it was there.
He crept up to the painting, and peered more closely at it. The makeup was thick and caked on. Mark could see that it had cracked in places and had started to flake off like old paint. There was an odor coming from the painting as well, a wet greasy smell, like rotten bacon or sweaty onions. And beneath that, there was another smell, even worse. It was something like cheap wine that had turned to vinegar or maybe spoiled fruit that had been forgotten in some dank and dirty warehouse.
The stench was awful. The clown had the worst bad breath he had ever smelled and Mark wondered absently what you had to eat to get breath like that. He pushed the thought away realizing that he didnt want to know the answer to that particular question. Not now, not ever.
Mark snapped his head back, suddenly aware that he had leaned so close to the painting that his nose had touched the black canvas. He wiped at his face with his right hand and his fingers came back wet, smeared on them was a small bit of white face paint. It was both greasy and powdery, the combination felt wrong on his fingertips. Wet and dry at the same time, greasy and tacky. He absently wiped it on his shirt, not liking the way it felt.
The door suddenly swung open and Mark stepped back even further. He turned towards his mother in surprise and terror. He expected her to be in a foul mood but she was completely composed now, relaxed even. All the rage he had seen on her face in Jennas room was gone. She stepped slowly into the room, her hands neatly folded behind her back.
The police are gone. She said. So is Jenna.
Was she dead? Mark asked.
His mother paused. She died a long time ago Mark. What you saw was just her body catching up with her soul.
What is that supposed to mean? Mark asked.
Youll find out soon enough I think. Laney too.
What are you talking about? He asked. He was scared now, more scared than he had ever been, and he continued to back away from her.
His mother didnt answer his question, but turned her head to the painting. I see youve been looking at this. Have you changed your mind about it yet?
No! Mark almost screamed, his eyes flicking towards the clown. Its...its...
Its beautiful. She finished for him. Isnt it? She lifted a hand up and caressed the stubbly cheek.
Marks eyes widened. The clown seemed to lean into that caress and as it did Mark saw that the frown was gone. It had been replaced by a wide evil grin that was all teeth and no lips. Mark looked at that grin and started to scream just as his mother pulled a bloody sock out from behind her back and shoved it into Marks mouth.
I introduce my poetry teacher
to my brother, the minister.
This is my poetry teacher.
Can you tell me a poem? he asks.
Sure. She recites the one
about the dragon tattoo
on her back, with the tail
penetrating her anus.
He always considered himself a lucky man. And he was. The kind of luck measured in a draw of the cards or a winning lottery number. In most cases, luck was something you wanted, and if you didnt have it, you envied your neighbor whose grass really was greener.
In death luck is always present, but its the ‘heads I win, tails you lose kind of luck. Still, shuttle commander Paul Stone was lucky even in death. Seconds after the explosion, he fell unconscious as the intact crew compartment plummeted toward an ironically, calm and serene ocean surface. The ripples from the splash would touch every shore of the planet.
Like nearly every astronaut, Stone spent time in the Air Force, not as a pilot initially, but as an engine mechanic. He finally entered the pilot training program and did a tour of Viet Nam. After discharge, he headed for NASA. The day of the tragic explosion, his wife, four children and mother were in the VIP box to watch the launch. Paul lived only minutes from the Cape, and spent every spare moment fulfilling his roles as father and husband. The demands of the astronaut training program requires a person remain in excellent physical condition. Paul worked out daily and looked more like a pro boxer than an astronaut. His wife enjoyed the washboard abs and the broad shoulders and beefy arms. Naturally muscular, he was difficult to fit, and because of his size, six foot two, he was almost turned away by NASA.
Lift off was less than a minute away. The six crew members of the shuttle Artemis were busy with last minute systems checks. No matter their experience or position on board the space shuttle, nervousness tattooed its mark on every emotion the astronauts felt. It was normal. Even seasoned entertainers got the jitters before performing on stage. No matter how far technology had advanced, space travel was anything but routine. The space shuttle was named after the Greek goddess, Artemis from Greek mythology. The name was chosen in a contest of grade schoolers. Robbie Holbrook from Chicago won the contest, which included a week at Space Camp in Houston. Paul Stone met with Robbie and was impressed with the young boys knowledge and enthusiasm for space travel. It wouldnt be a surprise if he read about Robbie Holbrook traveling to Mars in twenty years.
Robert McCoy was the shuttles pilot. He was an experienced astronaut, this being his fourth mission. He spent time in Nam, and then flew commercially for a short while before heading for NASA. His wife Lynn and his daughter Emily were home in St. Augustine watching the launch. Rob had insisted they stay home, though normally they attended every launch. Emily was in a play that evening, and it would just be too much, Rob insisted. Emily sat in a crowded classroom at the Neil Armstrong Elementary School watching the launch. Her mother sat beside her. They held hands and Lynn was embarrassed by how sweaty her hands were. She imagined holding her palms out and having puddles form in them.
Allan Hoyt was Mission Specialist 1. He was part of the new breed of astronauts. Not even a pilot, Allan was a scientist who refused to fly home to Salt Lake City to visit his parents. He either took the train or drove. Despite his intense fear of flying, Allan held no fears about space flight. He underwent a lot of psychological testing before being admitted to the space program, and still endured teasing from his fellow astronauts. He specialized in quantum electronics and laser technology. An experienced black belt in Karate, he was no geek, but he was a man who trusted science more than he trusted God. His easy nature, soft features and kind smile made him a shoe in for crew member. In the small confines of a space shuttle, personality is nearly as important as knowledge and experience. Allan was single, but was engaged to be married in July. He was always a busy man. He loved reading, building wooden ship models from scratch from a set of plans, and when inspired, he wrote poetry to his fiancée.
Andrea Shaffer was one of two women onboard. She was a mission specialist with a background in electrical engineering. Shaffer was a space veteran, having flown on three previous missions in which she helped to deploy satellites into orbit. NASA loved Shaffer. Aside from being extremely talented, Andrea had a charming and friendly personality, and a face the camera loved. NASA chief, Arnold Bolton estimated about fifty million men would watch liftoff just to catch a few glimpses of Andrea Shaffer. He had his own fantasies he kept to himself as he was certain many men working for NASA did. She was married, but the press rarely mentioned her husband. Bolton preferred it that way. A little mystery was enticing and helped TV ratings which decreased every year since the Apollo program.
Richard Elliot was also a Mission Specialist. He had been an Air Force pilot in Viet Nam, but had no interest in piloting a space shuttle. His love was bio-medical research, and space was an intriguing laboratory with endless possibilities. Richard was single, often seen with a new woman monthly, always a red head. Still, there were rumors regarding his sexual orientation. Everyone at NASA knew better. Elliot was often referred to as the Warren Beatty of NASA.
Kari Neal was an experiment. She wasnt a scientist or an astronaut, and until a few months ago, had never flown before. The highest she had ever been was on the ninth story of an office building in Burlington Vermont. The building was twelve stories, but Kari had no need to venture higher and wouldnt even out of curiosity. The months of training was like a fairy tale come true. In real life, she was a schoolteacher, humbly teaching a class of thirty-four tenth graders. She added little real value to the mission other than publicity. It was predicted that her mere presence on the shuttle flight would increase viewer-ship ten-fold. Between Kari and Andrea, shuttle launches were commanding big ratings. Prior to Andrea being part of the crew, most launches were covered with a ten-second video clip on the evening news. The stories were not enough to warrant a reaction out of Dan Rather. He presented them as if he were reading a box of cereal. Teaming her up with Kari Neal was intentional for a couple of reasons. Andrea was the most qualified for the mission, and she brought in male viewers. NASA chief Bolton even considered an astronaut calendar, but the idea didnt go over well. The mid-morning launch would limit viewership, but this launch would be viewed over and over unlike any other.
Kari. You doing okay? Paul asked. Kari was on the lower mid-deck. The commander and pilot were on the upper flight deck. They couldnt see each other, but were able to maintain constant radio contact.
Doing fine, Commander, Kari answered. She smiled, her eyes as wide as a childs on Christmas morning. She had prepared over eighteen months for this flight until even emergency drills felt routine. She woke this morning feeling pumped up and confident. They had rehearsed everything. There was a concern about the overnight freezing temperatures at the cape. That was out of the ordinary. They hadnt rehearsed that scenario. Still, at her 4:00 a.m. wake up, she was excited and confident. Now, she wasnt as sure. Going up into the launch tower, she spotted icicles four feet long. Some longer. They dangled with an ominous look, like teeth from some giant, pre-historic carnivore. Watching them break loose and fall to the ground like tossed spears was especially disturbing for some reason.
Dont worry, Kari, Stone told her. That ice doesnt pose any problem. The best minds in the world on this rocket system have been up all night talking. They know what theyre doing.
Kari smiled. Thanks, Commander. I hope some of the all night talking had something to do with the shuttle. They all chuckled and the level of tension dropped a notch.
Make sure youre buckled in. Were about T-minus 90, Stone reminded.
Im surprised no ones been harpooned by a falling icicle, McCoy said.
Maybe they have, but dont think NASA would delay the mission over that! They enjoyed a brief laugh, then quickly re-focused on the task at hand.
It was exactly ninety seconds until liftoff. To seven people, life now measured no more than one hundred sixty-three seconds. Seven adult lives now dwindling down to final seconds. And not one of them aware of the impending disaster. Thats how death often was. It lurked silently and under the cloak of invisibility and denial.
For thirty seconds there was near silence in the shuttle. The primary activity was sitting still, alone with ones own thoughts. At T minus sixty-one seconds, commander Paul Stone spoke.
One minute downstairs.
Cabin pressure is probably going to give us an alarm, Allan Hoyt observed. Caution and warning alarms were routine occurrences during pre-launch.
Okay, Stone answered, looking at the gauge. Okay there.
Alarm looks good, McCoy said. The cabin pressure was acceptable.
Good, Stone replied. In the moments before launch, talk was minimal, as if they had to purchase words by the syllable. Systems were being monitored and in those last seconds, many silent distracting thoughts raced through each mind. Some thoughts are shared, and others are reserved for late night campfires or discussions at the bar or dinner parties. Some thoughts are never shared at all.
Right engine helium tank is just a little bit low, McCoy pointed out. Its now T minus thirty-four seconds.
It was yesterday, too, the commander tells him.
T minus thirty-one.
Thirty seconds down there, the commander says.
They waited in silent anticipation for the solid rocket boosters and main engine to ignite.
Fifteen, the commander said.
Seconds ticked by, and each one touched a nerve. Among the seven astronauts, the nerve touched something and caused a reaction; sweaty palms, frequent blinking, tightened fists, butterflies, feeling jittery, but with McCoy, he simply felt nervous, that nebulous vague sensation that evades capture by words.
T-minus 10 seconds, McCoy said. Counting simple numbers never absorbed so much emotion. A million things could go wrong. A space ship is a very complicated piece of machinery. However, engineers had designed redundant systems, so one component could fail and theyd still have one, maybe two backups.
At T minus six seconds, the giant rockets ignited, their powerful rumble shook each seated astronaut to the point they could feel it in their tooth fillings.
There they go, guys! His voice vibrated with the rocket. Stone felt an adrenalin rush that only a small number of human beings ever felt; the rush of being shot into space. A good fast sports car is a rush. Even watching NASCAR can get a person pumped up. Roller coasters were designed for adrenalin junkies. The best coasters make the riders feel like they cheated death. But there was nothing like sitting on top of a rocket going faster than anything on earth. Even faster than a speeding bullet. It was a rare astronaut whose heart rate didnt scare the flight physician at least once.
T minus two seconds.
All right! Hoyt yelled.
Three at a hundred, Stone said, referring to the three engines all being at one hundred percent thrust.
Aaaaalll riiiiight! Hoyt yelled again. It was T minus zero. The rocket was lifting off. Its acceleration was not too unlike parts of a roller coaster ride.
Here we go! McCoy said.
As the giant rocket thundered beneath them, the shuttle began lifting into the air. The vibrations from the engines shook them in their seats, a vivid reminder of the power they were riding. For those few who had a window, they watched the tower slip past them at an ever increasing speed. Icicles, some three or four feet long, shattered and fell from the launch pad.
Just over half a second from take off, a small plume of hot gases began to escape from the right solid rocket booster. Captured on film, the tiny jets of gas, dwarfed by the enormous rocket, went unnoticed. The o-ring, frozen in the low overnight temperatures was brittle and had lost its elasticity. The o-ring was designed as a buffer between parts and to prevent the escape of hot gases. Just feet away was the external tank that held the hydrogen and liquid oxygen. During the stress of liftoff, the o-ring was like a shock absorber between tons of metal, only this morning, it simply cracked and broke as the solid rocket boosters ignited. With the enormous thrust and pressurized gases, the damaged o-ring sprung a leak. Later, photographic data would show plumes of smoke spurting from a joint near the o-rings.
Houston, Artemis roll program. Stone was referring to the rocket maneuvers to roll the ship slightly to aim it for trajectory around the earth.
Looks like weve got a lot of wind here today, McCoy said, looking out the window and the billowing clouds.
Yeah, looks like it. Stone paused as he monitored instrument readings. He turned toward the window. Its a little hard to see out my window here.
Theres ten thousand feet and Mach point five, McCoy said, referring to the altitude and velocity report. They were traveling at half the speed of sound.
It was now 35 seconds after liftoff. It had seemed like minutes, and at the same time only as brief as a blink. Fear and anxiety were great distorters of time. Perhaps thats the side effect when the brain records very vivid memories that will last a lifetime.
Point nine, Stone said, referring to 0.9 Mach.
Theres Mach one, McCoy said five seconds later.
Hot propellant gases continued to escape as the o-ring, grease and joint insulation melted and burned away. Tiny puffs of black smoke spewed out the minute opening in timing to the vibration of the rocket joint.
Sudden shear forces slammed into the shuttle, shaking the entire craft slightly. The high altitude wind shear conditions were immediately sensed and countered by the guidance, navigation and control system. Like any seasoned pilot, Stone and McCoy rode out the turbulence without a reaction. They sat back in their seats that vibrated worse than a sleezy hotel bed with Magic Fingers. Kari Neal wanted a window for reassurance and at the same time, was grateful she didnt have one. Flying blind was a little like hiding under the bed.
It was T plus 41.
Going through nineteen thousand, Stone said as matter-of-factly as an elevator man asking, ‘up or down? The shuttle was now at an altitude of 19,000 feet. Okay, were throttling down. The shuttle routinely throttled down during the period when it would be subject to maximum dynamic pressure. At this point, the shuttle was sustaining pressures of 720 pounds per square inch. At a higher altitude where the air was thinner, they could safely throttle up. Until then, the ride would be a little rough.
It was T plus 43.
Hot gases leaking from the right SRB continued their assault on the large external tank. Escaping hot gases scorched the side of the external tank, and slowly chewed away at the thin metal skin. The large external tank consisted of two smaller tanks inside, one atop the other. The lower tank contained hydrogen, the other liquid oxygen. The gases were ready to ignite.
For fourteen seconds the entire crew was silent. The shuttle shook and thundered skyward, and teacher Kari Neil thought it was the best damn ride shed ever been on. That is, when she wasnt feeling on the edge of terror. This was a far cry from driving the family van to school in the morning. Kari looked around the cabin. She still had trouble believing she was in the shuttle Artemis on her way into space! It was simply amazing. In what other country could a young schoolteacher, wife of a plumber and mother of two from small farm USA, go into space? Her parents were in awe of it all and since the day Kari was chosen, they proudly displayed the American flag on a new flagpole in their front yard. Tomorrow, it would be lowered to half-mast.
Finally, at T plus 57, the commander prepared to throttle up.
Go for throttling up. Now that the shuttle had passed through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, they could safely throttle up to 104% power without risking shaking the rocket into a pile of nuts and bolts.
Ready to throttle up, McCoy echoed.
Feel that mother go! Stone yelled. God there was nothing like this, he thought. He could hardly wait for the rockets to go to full power.
Wooooohooooo! Allan Hoyt yelled.
Stone smiled as he continued to monitor the instruments.
The gases leaking from the SRB were now a thin white flame with the sharpness of razor-edged knife. The outer shell of the hydrogen tank was weakening.
It was now exactly one minute since liftoff. Only thirteen seconds remained of the ill-fated flight.
Thirty-five thousand going through one point five. McCoy was giving the altitude and velocity report. They were now at 35,000 feet at a speed of Mach 1.5.
It was now one minute five seconds since launch.
Reading four eighty-six on mine, Stone said, referring to the routine airspeed indicator check.
Yep, thats what Ive got, too.
Roger, go at throttle up, Stone ordered.
It was now one minute ten seconds since lift-off. The solid rocket boosters were at 104% thrust. The hot gases leaking around the o-ring fed a growing white-hot flame. Suddenly, the flame expanded, slicing through the hydrogen tank as if it were paper. As the flame plume increased in size, aerodynamic forces deflected it rearward onto the lower strut. The flames shot around the strut and licked at the surface of the huge, hydrogen tank. Within milliseconds, the lower strut broke away from both the solid rocket booster and the external tank. The SRB, now out of control, swung violently around, hitting, burning and denting the shuttles wing. Tiles shattered and broke away. A white vapor pattern began blooming from the side of the external tank bottom dome. Every astronaut heard the noise and felt the rocket actually move slightly in its trajectory. Alarms started going off. Stone and McCoy heard them for only a second. It may seem like a tiny slice of time too narrow for even the smallest thought to slip through. But when a set of alarms go off on a rocket, a stream of thoughts emerge moving faster than the speed of sound.
Beginning at 72 seconds into the flight, a rapid series of events occurred so quickly, it would take NASA months to determine exactly what went wrong. Telemetered data indicated a wide variety of flight system actions in response to the leaking hot gases.
Uh oh, McCoy said. That was the end of the transcript. There was no sound of an explosion, no screams of pleads to God. Simply silence. It could be anyones guess exactly what made McCoy react. He heard the SRB come loose and crash into the external tank, and they very likely all felt the shutter of the collision. He wasnt exactly sure what the noise meant, but he knew with certainty that such noises during launch often mean serious, if not always catastrophic failure.
The rotating solid rocket booster immediately began ripping away at the hull to the external tank. The bottom dome of the tank quickly failed. A tiny amount of leaking hydrogen was caught by the flame of hot gases. The flame immediately followed the trail into the massive hydrogen tank. Because oxygen was lacking, there was only a small initial explosion that ripped a larger opening in the hydrogen tank, resulting in an immediate, massive release of hydrogen.
The large hydrogen tank sat below a tank of liquid oxygen. With the release of hydrogen, there was a sudden forward thrust of almost 2.8 million pounds, shoving the hydrogen tank upward and crashing it into the liquid oxygen tank. Simultaneously, the large solid rocket booster, now at full thrust, impacted the intertank structure and the lower part of the liquid oxygen tank. In the violent collision, the fuel-starved fire sucked in the liquid oxygen, resulting in an immediate and massive explosion. The shuttle was traveling at Mach 1.92 at an altitude of 46,000 feet when it became enveloped in a huge fireball.
The right and left SRBs separated from the shuttle and flew off wildly in opposite directions, a white plume of smoke trailing. It would be just over 36 seconds before the United States Air Force Safety Commander would detonate an explosion that would send the rockets harmlessly into the ocean.
Time had stopped, or seemed to. Pictures paraded past each of the astronauts in slow motion. It was like the fading after image one sees when they stare into a bright flash bulb. Probably from dying brain cells, remembering the last image the eyes had registered. There was a dull, distant sound, almost like thunder far away in the mountains. The sound faded. For the briefest of moments, there was a deafening sound, and then silence.
A bright orange glow filled the cabin in the first few milliseconds of the explosion. It felt warm, almost friendly like a welcomed Spring sun after Winters thaw. The normal vibrations of launch suddenly became jolting thrusts that jarred a persons spine. Commander Stone watched as cracks spidered across the thick windows. It happened so quickly, almost immediately, but suddenly time meant nothing. He could feel a force behind him, hot and explosive. A force that felt like he was sitting on a giant spring that had just been released. An image of a roller coaster surfaced in McCoys thoughts. Thousands of thoughts filled his mind, though there was no real time for any of them.
The back of the large shuttle was broken in half like fragile kindling. The main shuttle engines were still burning in defiance. In milliseconds, it broke into fragments, each large chunk sprayed outward trailed by a thick white plume of smoke.
The large crowds along the coast first looked at the expanding cloud and fireball in quiet disbelief, many wondering in that first second if this wasnt some new type of launch designed by NASA. As the fireball expanded and it was clearly evident that no shuttle was emerging from the explosive cloud, there was the briefest of silence, followed by moans, oooohhhhs, and finally, the quiet somber music of tears and sobbing.
Inside the shuttle, the six astronauts instantly knew that death was less than a breath away. They could all sense an intense heat behind them. As the shuttle broke apart, the crew compartment separated from the rest of the shuttle still intact. It tumbled over and over as it flew though the air. The still conscious astronauts held tightly in their seats as the crew compartment tumbled. It was an instinctive and futile effort at survival. From 46,000 feet below, the crowds saw the shuttle as a tiny fragment trailed by a large, thick stream of white smoke. There were many fragments, so it was anyones guess what they were. The actual force of the explosion, while powerful and fierce, was not sufficient to cause death or even serious injury to the crew members. Some roller coasters in Florida packed more of a punch in their twists and turns.
For an endless twenty-five seconds, the crew compartment continued in an upward trajectory for 17,000 feet, peaking at 65,000 feet. As it began falling toward earth, its tumbling had stopped and it continued its free fall upside down.
Pilot Robert McCoy activated his emergency oxygen. He had survived Viet Nam, he wasnt going to give up so easily. He glanced over the control panel that was bent and twisted out of shape. Not even emergency power existed, except for the PEAP, personal egress air pack, which had its own power supply. McCoy looked around the darkened cabin. Next to him was a silent Paul Stone, sitting unconscious in his seat. He hung from the safety straps in the upside down cabin. At 65,000 feet, the crew compartment reached its peak projectory. For the briefest of moments, McCoy felt no motion. Then the compartment began falling. McCoy wished he had a parachute, but there was no way for an emergency egress. He cursed NASA for not designing better emergency escape procedures. McCoy took long, slow breaths and wondered why it even mattered. He knew when they hit the ocean, it would be like slamming into concrete. Hed never survive. McCoy removed the air mask then sat back in his seat as the crew compartment tumbled toward to ocean. It a matter of seconds, he was gratefully unconscious.
Kari Neil was in the mid-deck, or lower compartment, along with Richard Elliot and Andrea Shaffer, both Mission Specialists. Neil and Elliot were seated side by side, and behind them and to Karis left, was Shaffer. The crew compartment continued its free fall upside down. In the time that was available, a brief moment of eye contact was denied as a last request. Neil gripped the armrests. She wanted to look at Rich, to say something, but the world around her began fading. Colors looked washed out and old. There were noises in the distance, like far off mumbling. She couldnt make any sense out of what was being said. The voices were coming closer, the sound louder and more familiar. She knew the names behind the voices, yet for some reason, names were not important. She imagined their faces and saw her past. They faded from view as a bright light burned away their images. It was a warm and friendly light that welcomed her.
Time had ceased to exist. Things happened, events occurred, but there was no meaning of time assigned to them. Like words without the music. The damaged crew compartment lost air rapidly. In less than two seconds, the cabin interior was completely decompressurized.
Each crew members helmet was connected to a personal egress air pack (PEAP) containing an emergency supply of breathing air (not pure oxygen). It seemed a rather unsophisticated way of managing an emergency. In fact, it was designed for land emergencies. There was no real emergency procedure for an explosion of this magnitude. All contingencies had been considered, including a total systems failure or massive explosion. It was just thought that no one could survive such an explosion. While this assumption was found to be false, upgrading the shuttle would have added substantial costs and weight. Possibly at the loss of some Senate support. Of the four PEAPs recovered by rescue divers, three were activated. Stone, the Commander of Artemis, did not stay conscious long enough to activate his PEAP.
Andrea Shaffer felt her bladder let go. The urines warmth was overridden by the searing heat of the explosion. She was nearly jarred out of her seat. The seat and shoulder strap dug sharply into her shoulder and a sharp pain shot through her back like a large, burning hot needle. Her clavicle snapped like a toothpick, and needles of pain shot through her body.
Paul Stone stared out the window before he fell unconscious. The explosion shot the crew compartment into the air like a bullet. The view outside the window was a white blur. The loud roar of the explosion became a soft hum. It was almost hypnotizing, nothing frightful or deafening. The vibrations soon became like slow finger massages that were calming and soothing.
For two minutes and twenty seconds, the crew compartment was in a free fall. It accelerated to a velocity of 207 miles per hour. When it hit the ocean, it impacted with a force of approximately 200 Gs, or 200 times the force of earths gravity. The seats were ripped from the floor flinging the astronauts into the ceiling. The small crew compartment folded into itself like an accordion. Seatbelts tore through their spacesuits like sharp knives. In an instant, the crew compartment became a nearly flat mass of twisted wreckage.
The ocean waves were but gentle wrinkles on the surface. The serenity of the peaceful morning seemed to mock the tragedy. A lone sea gull that was floating quietly on the surface was startled by the crash and took flight.
No one felt the collision with the ocean. No one felt their arms ripped from the sockets. The violence of the collision was enough to decapitate if the person was in the right position. It happened twice. Only body fragments were recovered, most of them small.
Death came quickly, and it came with mercy.
The crew compartment slammed into the ocean with such force it sounded like an explosion. A shock wave of water started outward, and in time these larger waves would find shore. The compartment penetrated into the waters depth about thirty feet. Metal crumbled like foil and the small crew compartment broke into pieces. Each body broke free from the restricting harness. The force of the collision was stronger than bone and tendons and ligaments, and most bodies were torn apart from the force. The crew compartment settled slowly to the bottom nearly two hundred feet below. Pieces of the shuttle splashed into the ocean and followed the crew compartment to the ocean floor. The waters surface was calm except for the growing circle of waves from the falling debris.
Dr Linda L Bielowski
A turn of head
A twist of fate
And they were gone,
Fallen into piles of rubble
Victims of TNT and the wrecking ball
Devoured by a vortex
And here, I thought theyd last
Be transformed into landmarks
These desecrated temples
The two-flat where lightning
Split the chimney
And thunder shook the foundation
Where I learned I was without a father,
Weak and small,
Pas clinker brick bungalow
With pride and care
By his sweat and calloused hands
Giving me the gift of friends,
Ballet lessons, a school nearby
A sense of safety and belonging
With room for imagination to stretch and grow
Decadent apartment house
Where my innocence and trust
Were stripped away
Like so many pieces of sullied clothing
Torn shreds hitting the wind
Entangled on a wire
Left me bare and bleeding
My Victorian castle in the air
Where I loved you
Until I lost me
The mattress unable to support
And the prayer room
In the rescue mission
Where I heeded His altar call
To seek and find my salvation
But a vast graveyard,
Devoid of markers
Until I became allergic
To my own tears
And salt trails scarred my cheeks
Until my heart became Jiffy corn
And popped away
A heap of ash and dust
Piled so high
It hits heaven
If only I could climb up
Like Jack And The Beanstalk
To find escape
And finger the clouds,
To reach a golden age
A.J. felt nervous energy roll up his spine, for he knew that what he was doing was wrong. He glanced out into the junkyard, and he thought for a moment that something was there. He worked fast to get the fuel line free from the carburetor that he trying to steal, but a bolt was rusted in place. As he gripped the wrench even tighter, a breeze rolled by him. Within that gust he detected the hint of gasoline, which was an unusual odor to be coming from stacks of decaying cars that were devoid of petroleum.
Forget it. Lets get the fuck out of here. Hank looked off into the dark junkyard while holding the flashlight.
Shine that on the engine, A.J. said.
I dont like the feel of this place. I think we should get out of here, Hank said.
Really. A Camaro carb isnt going to work on TA anyway, Larry said.
Yeah it is. Its the same car. A.J. said. He felt another breeze curl around him, but this time the odor of gas was even stronger. He gazed off into the yard, but all he saw was darkness.
The area of the junkyard that A.J. was working in didnt have many stacks of cars. The autos in this section were new arrivals, which were cars that havent been stripped of their useable parts yet. The fenced property ran close to a mile, and if the owner caught him he would get an ass full of rock salt delivered by a twelve gauge shotgun.
Just then, he heard something creak just to the right of him. He watched Hank shine the flashlight in that direction, but all he saw was other wrecked cars. He returned to the carburetor, grabbing Hanks hand and holding the flashlight over the engine.
A.J. (Andrew James) Worthlin just turned twenty-one. He was a bit tall, slim, and light complected. He had long dirty blond hair and a beard. He had gothic and heavy metal style tattoos running down each arm. He always hated his high-pitched voice, but he made no effort to hide it. Yellow stained his teeth and the front two were bucked. He wore boots, greasy jeans, a Black Sabbath T-shirt, and a Miller baseball cap.
Somethings over there, Hank said.
I didnt see anything, A.J. said.
Hes right. I think we should get out of here, Larry said.
Its just that joint that we smoked before we came in here. Relax, Ill have this off of here in five minutes. A.J. said.
Were not going to be alive in five minute. Hank glanced over his shoulder for longer than a moment.
Where in the hells that quarter inch wrench? I just set it down. A.J. questioned.
How would I know, Hank said.
A.J. looked up from the engine, and then said. Come on, quiet fucking around.
Were not... Hank began.
Just then, the wrench come sailing at the Camaro that A.J. was working on. Before he could flinch, the tool hit the car with a resounding ping. He felt his heart race, for he knew that somebody else lurked in that junkyard. As he scanned the direction from which the wrench came, he witnessed a funny colored light move next to an old Mustang. Though the radiance lasted only a few seconds, he realized that it wasnt caused by an artificial source. When Hank held the auto in the flashlights beam, he recognized just whose vehicle that used to be. He said, Thats G.W.s Mustang.
He was really flying on that night, Larry said.
I always knew that he would total it in a drag race, Hank said.
I wish that front end wasnt all smashed in like that. That was a hot car when he was running it, A.J. said.
Lets get the fuck out of here, Hank said.
Just give me five more minutes, A.J. said.
That wrench came flying in here because youre stealing a carburetor, Hank said.
Somebodys out there in the yard, Larry said.
Nobodys out there. Now hold that light over the engine. I couldve been done by now, A.J. said.
Somebody had to throw that wrench, Hank said.
Forgot throwing it. How in the hell did they take it in the first place? We were all standing right here, Larry said.
Just help me with this. A.J. seized Hanks hand and brought the beam over the block. As soon as the light was shining on the carburetor, he felt a current of air envelope him. Despite detecting the reek of gasoline in that waft, there was a second tang that he just couldnt place. He worked with greater fervor, prying the fuel line free from the carburetor. When he picked up another wrench, he heard that Mustang turn over.
No fucking way. Hank shined the flashlight on the Mustang.
That cars totaled. A.J.s jaw hung open.
Theres exhaust coming out of the tailpipe but its totally fucking mangled, Larry said.
A.J. jolted as the engine revved up in steps, and each one sounded more menacing that the first. Panic tingled on the surface of his skin, causing him to shudder beyond anything that he had experienced before. The thuds became the purring on an idle, and even that disturbed him. Just as he calmed down a bit, the engine opened up all the way. While producing a huge cloud of smoke, the roar changed the color of his complexion. In the next moment, the engine died.
He heard his teeth chatter, and he tried hard to stop quaking. As he gazed at the car, he noticed a light leave the vehicle. The glow traveled off into the junkyard, pulsating and changing shape with each passing moment. Once the radiance got about twelve feet away, it vanished.
I-Im out of h-here. Larry gathered up the loose tools and buttoned up the toolbox fast.
Lets go. Hank shined the beam on the box.
Just give me a minute. I almost got this carburetor off, A.J. said.
Its not worth dying for. Larry began walking toward the hole in the fence.
Hank handed A.J. the flashlight, and then said. If youre not out of here in five minutes were leaving without you.
When A.J. took the flashlight, his hand trembled. He told himself that the carburetor was only a few seconds away, and the image of his car with two carbs remained in the forefront of his mind.
Twenty minutes later, A.J. opened the drivers door and then tossed the carburetor and tools onto the floor of the backseat. He hopped in, taking a sip from the beer that he had sitting there.
So lets go, Hank said in a hurried tone of voice.
All right keep your pants on. A.J. set his beer down.
Im surprised that you walked out of there alive. Im never coming back here, Larry said.
COME ON. LETS GO, Hank said.
All right. You dont have to get so uptight about it. A.J. started the car and then shifted into first.
Put your foot in it man, Larry said.
Just relax. A.J. turned the car around, heading toward the entrance to Hickory Hill Auto Graveyard. The two lane back road didnt have a shoulder on either side of it, and it wound through the country for miles. The nearest farm was beyond walking distance.
Who in the hell is that? Larry sat up and leaned forward so that his torso was in between the two bucket seats.
Someone who needs a ride. A.J. downshifted.
I dont know about this, Hank said.
Its certainly... Larry began.
Just then, A.J. saw G.W. standing in the road holding out his thumb. G.W. appeared as a transparent glowing form, and he knew that he wasnt alive. G.W., only nineteen when he died, had long black hair. He had on jeans, a rock T-shirt, and looked as though he just smoked a joint.
A.J. pushed on the brake with force, stopping the car as fast as he could. He felt the steering wheel vibrate in his hands, and he wasnt sure that he could hold onto it. He saw G.W. stare into his eyes, and the glare that he witnessed had meanness about it. He realized that G.W. was furious, and he sensed that anger directed at him.
D-Do something, Hank said.
What? He h-has the road blocked. A.J. fought to avoid pissing himself.
Back up, Larry whimpered.
Yeah, b-back... Hank began.
Just then, a car went flying by at a great speed. A.J. pissed himself, and then finished his beer and threw the can out the window. The GTO was a wreck from the junkyard, and the back end was totaled out. Though he didnt see the driver, he knew that whoever was behind the wheel was a ghost.
He no longer saw G.W., but terror still tore through him nonetheless. After opening another beer, he downed it fast. When he shifted into first gear, a strong wind descended upon the vehicle. The reek of gasoline within the gale was strong enough to gag him, and he understood that a storm didnt cause that gust.
A.J. moved forward, coming to the entrance to Hickory Hill Auto Graveyard. A tall fence stood beneath the weathered sign, and within it he could see the greasy old building that served as both an office and a garage. Two tow trucks were parked in front of the structure, and each of them appeared better than fifteen years old. As he moved past the cranes rusty boom, terror became ripe in his belly.
Just then, something struck the windshield. A.J. stopped, feeling panic rape him of his sense of well-being. The gust became stronger, allowing him to see only three feet in front of his car. Something else pounded the window, and this time it was hard enough to produce a crack. He said, SON OF A BITCH.
Forget that, Hank said.
Dont tell me to forget it. Somebody just cracked my fucking windshield.
Why dont you... Larry began.
In the next moment, a baseball came sailing at the windshield. It impacted with
such force that it almost penetrated the glass. A.J. couldnt tell if the car was shaking or he was. He came parallel with the entrance to the junkyard, and as soon as he did the wind died.
Before he could draw another breath, he heard the sound of an engine roar. As soon as he perceived that big block howl, he knew that it belonged to an old muscle car. He told himself to punch it, but his body remained frozen. He listened to the auto approach the gates, and then he witnessed the entries open on their own. G.W.s Mustang, despite have a totaled out front end, and came right for him.
A.J. put the pedal to the floor, shifting gears in a harried manner. As he glanced into his rearview mirror, he glimpsed G.W. as he drove his car.
Thats impossible. That car doesnt even have an engine. Look at it. He must have been going one-seventy when he wrecked that damn thing, Larry said.
Shut up Im driving, A.J. said through clenched teeth.
Hes after you because you stole that carburetor man, Hank said.
SHUT UP. IM DRIVING, A.J. barked
Where is... Larry began.
Just then, A.J. felt G.W. hit his car in the back. While looking into his mirror, he saw G.W. coming in for another shot. He gripped the wheel even tighter, and he wasnt sure that he could hold onto it. While using his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow, his body jolted as G.W. rammed him in the ass.
We have to get off this road, Hank said in an excited tone of voice.
SHUT UP, A.J. snapped.
We cant outrun him. G.W. has the baddest car in Peaceful Valley. He has three deuces on that thing, Larry said.
SHUT UP. EVERYBODY JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP, A.J. said. He felt G.W. ram him again, and he had to fight to maintain control. He knew that his car wouldnt go any faster, and he understood that his engine needed work in order to reach top speed.
Before A.J. could flinch, G.W. came around the drivers side of his car. Looking over, he saw G.W. pull even with him. He gazed into G.W.s eyes, witnessing him draw his finger across his throat. Before he could react, he felt G.W. thrust his car into his Trans Am. Panic overwhelmed him, causing him to grip the wheel so tight that his fingers were turning red. He saw a tree coming up fast, and he realized that he only had two tires on the road. He perceived G.W. applying greater and greater force, attempting to send him head-on into the tree.
MOTHERFUCKER, A.J. shouted. He locked up the brakes, feeling his car thrust him forward and hearing his tires screech. The tree came right at him, and from what he saw it appeared better than three feet around. He grunted while pulling the wheel to the left, pushing with his feet in an effect to get his Trans Am to turn. He gritted his teeth, seeing the oak get bigger and bigger. In the next moment, the wheel turned. His coupe went flying by the tree, but not without clipping the trunk with the right side of his vehicle. The entire passenger side was smashed in, and the window next to Hank was completely spiderwebbed. The auto slid to a stop in the middle of the street, and A.J.
didnt see G.W. anywhere.
He was trying to kill us. Hank gasped.
Shut up, A.J. puffed.
I think we should get out of here while we still can, Larry said.
Why didnt he kill us? Hank wondered.
How the fuck would I know. Maybe he thought that he had us. Or maybe he can only go so far from the junkyard, A.J. said.
Hit it man, Larry said.
Hes right, hit it. Hank said.
Give me a minute, A.J. said.
You have to bring that carburetor back. Thats why hes coming after us, Larry said.
Youre nuts. Theres no way Im bringing it back, A.J. said.
Whos car did you swipe it from? Hank questioned.
Whoever it was theyre pissed. That car must have belonged to one of G.W.s friends, Larry said.
He can have the damn thing. A.J. rolled down the window and watched Larry toss it out. He then shifted into first, taking off at a steady speed.
Put your foot in it, Hank said.
We going fast enough. You saw what happened the last time I tried... A.J. began. Just then, the engine died.
Man we shouldve never came out here? Larry glanced out the back window.
Can you get it started? Hank said in a stressed tone.
Its the damn carburetor, A.J. turned the key. It cant keep up with the engine. He heard the engine turn but not start.
Man were out in the middle of nowhere, Larry said.
Well what the fuck do you want me to do about it? A.J. pounded on the steering wheel with his fist.
Were going to have to walk. Hank gazed out into the darkness.
Theres a house about five or six miles up the road. A.J. opened his door and hopped out.
Were never going to make it. Hank got out.
As A.J. walked along the road, he heard nothing but the sound of his own feet striking the pavement. The wind was still, and the road seemed to wind forever off into the darkness. He pondered several scenarios in his mind, and each one proved insufficient at explaining what happened to his car. He kept going, cursing his Trans Am in his mind.
Just then, the roar of an engine came up from behind him. From the moment that he heard it, he knew that it belonged to a muscle car. By the time he turned around, high beam headlights flooded him. Desperation consumed him, making his body ripe with nervous energy. Before he could take another step, G.W.s Mustang came bearing down on them. He shoved Hank aside, and said. RUN FOR IT.
A.J. darted off the road, watching the Mustang soar right past him. G.W. faked for Larry, swerving hard and striking Hank. He watched Hank hit the car and then go flying up in the air, landing headfirst on the pavement. He puked with force, and then did so a
second time before he was even aware that he was doing it.
Panic came to life in him, and it caused him to run much faster than he otherwise would. He heard G.W.s tires screech as they came to a stop, listening to him turn around and then burn some rubber as he came back the other way. Glancing back, he watched Larry sprint down the street. He perceived G.W. shift into second, listening to his engine open up. In the next moment, he heard something strike the metal of the car. He didnt have to gaze back to know what it was.
Just then, those headlights flooded him. He breathed through his mouth, forcing himself to walk at a brisk rate. Exhaustion enveloped him, and it wouldnt allow him to run any more. He felt his muscles becoming tense, and he realized that his ambling would soon be taken away from him. Glancing back, he saw nothing but light. He could taste the fear that surged through him, and its tang had tar and vinegar flavors to it.
He stood in the middle of the road, turning around and glaring into the light. While trying to see G.W., he viewed only brightness coming at him. He understood that the car was just sitting there, and he wasnt sure if he could hear its engine or not. He panted through his mouth in a neurotic manner, which caused that tar tang to become many times worse. He puffed, and then said in a meek voice. Im sorry.
He expected to see G.W. come at him, or at least rev his engine. Instead he heard nothing, and the radiance remained unchanged. He gasped, and then said. I said I was sorry. Im sorry that I stole that blower from you...a-and those cheery bombs.
He sensed his body quiver, and he couldnt get that vinegar taste off his tongue. In the next moment, he heard G.W. rev his engine several times. When he perceived the sound of burning rubber, he spun around and took off running, but his muscles were getting tighter and tighter with each successive step. He said, You have the baddest car in Peaceful Valley. Do you hear me? I said that youre the king.
He heard G.W. shift into second, and he noticed those lights becoming brighter and brighter. The stench of gasoline overpowered him, replacing that tar taste that coated him tongue. He braced himself, believing that he was going to get it in the next moment. He turned off the road, sprinting about ten feet and stopping as he experienced shinsplints. He spun around fast, expecting to observe that Mustang bearing down on him. Instead he witnessed nothing, but the reek of gasoline was even more powerful.
Im moseyin, walkin,
waitin for my writer
friends who get off work,
lazy summer day, even in
this Interstate Idaho Pop.
776 town. Im lookin at the
Logging trucks, the cattle
Trucks, the gravel trucks,
Parked, waiting, time to eat.
(Theres an osprey nest about a
Quarter mile up from the diner
--- right next to the Two-Hearted
Clark River, 50 up, and 50
from Interstate, trucks chugging
up the grade on one side, gliding
down on the other, as the tan and
white parents take turns brining
fish to the hungry chicks, cautious-
ly winging in their heavy loads.)
Then I turn into a side-street ...
Where my roving reporters eye
Catches IT (the revealing scene):
A Pair --
Him a laid-off logger,
Her a short-haired honey-blonde --
Comin round the bend, around the
Corner of their 1-story rented 2
BDRM ranch house painted dark green.
There is a hush, a rush, a perfect
Unintended conspiracy about them.
She is furtive, while
Hes almost tripping over himself --
Trying, with varying degrees of success:
1) to walk quickly around the
corner in tandem with her
2) not step on her tiny tenny-
clad feet with his vibran soles
3) keep smilin at her and keep
that conspiracy goin,
4) and elude my gaze, my quiet
grasping of the situation ....
By Sean Baron
Frank opened the door.
Standing on his front porch were two crisp young men in their early twenties, each wearing nearly identical black suits, each wearing nearly identical expressions on their faces. Frank only needed to give his visitors a cursory glance to know who they were and what they wanted. There was no need for introductions and Frank made no attempt at being polite.
Sorry. He said, already pushing the door closed. Not interested.
Frank sighed and returned his attention to the Swanson dinner that sat cooling on the kitchen counter next to a half empty bottle of Rolling Rock. Leave it to the fucking Moonies to ruin a good meal, he thought, taking a swig of the beer and jabbing a fork into a piece of processed turkey.
Had Rachel still been alive, she would have scoffed at his fondness for frozen cuisine. She had been the stereotypical perfect wife and mother, never settling for convenience over nutrition and taste. In the seven years of marriage before her death, Frank had never once come home from work to find his dinner waiting for him in a black plastic tray.
Since her accident, however, Frank had come to not only rely on the microwavable meals, but to relish them. He had, in fact, become somewhat of a coinsurer and, to his daughters dismay, favored the Swanson meals over the other, more expensive brands.
Marci preferred the dinners he actually cooked with the stove, but these came seldom and were usually limited to weekends when their schedules were not so hectic. Frank had cooked more frequently when Marci was still small, but as she grew older and her extra-curricular activities had increased, he had turned to the quick fix of the frozen meal with more and more frequency.
The doorbell rang a second time, pulling Franks thoughts back to the here and now. He swore under his breath and set the bottle down hard before pushing another forkful of turkey into his mouth. He threw his fork down onto the counter where it clanged against the thick green glass of the beer bottle and then stepped out of the kitchen. Chewing quickly, he moved back toward the front door and swallowed the food just as his hand reached the brass knob.
By nature, Frank was a reserved and mild mannered individual, but seeing the same two men still on his front porch angered him. What right did they have to badger people at dinner time anyway? Not to mention the fact that Marci, who had been cramming for the SAT exam over the past several nights, had fallen asleep almost as soon as she had gotten home from school. She had been pressing hard lately, trying to get into Northwestern, and needed the extra rest. Frank was not about to let these two ying-yangs rob her of that and he knew he had to send them on their way.
Like it or not, he could usually count on a couple of visits a year, three if the spring thaw came early, and though the faces changed, the expressions on them did not. Their eyes always held the same dull mix of hope, indifference and fear, and the suits, like those blank stares hovering above them, were always drab and ill fitting things; jackets that were too wide in the shoulder and too short in the sleeve, pants that were cinched tight at the waist and with cuffs that puddled around ankles like shedding snake skins.
He had thought about mounting one of those brass plates on his door, something that said No Solicitation but he wondered just how much of a deterrent such a small sign could actually be. He doubted it would stop even the meekest of salesmen, and the effort would end in vain. He would still get calls from college kids selling magazines, he would still hear from the local Kirby dealer with the newest innovations in vacuum technology, and he would still come home to find a little bit of Gods word tucked neatly in the handle of his screen door.
The two before him now were not selling vacuums, or magazine subscriptions, or even all purpose cleaner, and he didnt see any pamphlets in hand, but they were salesmen just the same. That these two were peddling faith or selling little slices of the afterlife instead of some kind of wonder gel, did not separate them from the pack.
Holy Rollers had been what his mother had called them, and most who came into Matheson were either missionaries from the Evangelical Brotherhood up in Elgin or Moonies from farther up North. He had not known much about these people until later in life, but as a small boy, just starting to explore the boundaries of his back yard, his mother would often use them to keep him in line. Dont leave the yard! She would cry from the kitchen window. The Moonies will get you.
A more complete explanation was never offered and Franks imagination had conjured up the definition of a Moonie to be a wild mix of Neanderthal like caveman and Count Dracula. The resulting creature was a feral monstrosity, albeit a well dressed one, and haunted Franks dreams for years. This was, of course, what his mother had hoped for and although it was sort of a terrible thing to do to a child, she had meant well. At least, thats what Frank told himself.
Over the past few years, he had developed two pretty good defenses against the door knockers themselves. The first was to simply not answer the bell when it rang. The second was to slam the door shut as quickly and as bluntly as possible. Both were simple techniques and quite effective against a wide variety of salesmen, but Frank liked the latter approach best. He knew from experience that once you let one of these hawkers get started, stopping the flow of drivel was next to impossible.
Frank looked at the two men briefly, then muttered under his breath. Jesus Fucking Christ. He said, and started to close the door.
The two men glanced at each other only briefly before returning their attention to Frank. Neither of the men were taken aback or even seemed surprised by Franks blasphemy, in fact it was the greeting they seemed most accustomed to. Anything less than outright rejection at this point in the game would have been cause for alarm.
The man to Franks left spoke quickly, before the door closed. Dont you even want to know which church were with? He asked.
Frank paused, then shook his head and brought his hands up, palms out. It doesnt really matter. He said, and started to close the door again. Typically, this was enough to dispel your ordinary Faith Disciple or whatever they were calling themselves, and send them off to the neighbors house at a pretty good clip. And, as expected, the younger of the two men did step back, shrinking away from the slamming door with the pain of yet another rejection etched clearly on his face.
The older one however, the leader as Frank would come to think of him, was moving forward quickly, his right hand reaching into his plain black suit jacket while his left foot kicked the closing door back open.
Oh, but it does matter. The leader said, grinning as he stepped through the open door into Franks house. In fact, it matters a whole lot more than you think, sinner!
Frank stepped back quickly and almost stumbled over the ottoman that always seemed to scoot itself away from his easy chair. He regained his balance and then nearly fell again as the man Frank had mistaken for a Moonie pulled a handgun from the inside of his jacket and pointed it at him. The younger man followed his partner into the house and quickly closed the door behind him. When Frank saw that this man, too, had produced a weapon, a sawed off shotgun, he knew he and Marci were in serious trouble. Plain black suits or not, these were not your ordinary Bible Slingers.
Jesus, just what the fuck is going on here? Frank asked.
You tell us Frankie. The younger man said. What do you think is going on?
I dont know, Frank replied. You looking for donations are something?
No, Frank. The older one said. Were not looking for donations and were not here to invite you to a bake sale.
Well what do you want? Frank asked. And how do you know my name?
Listen Frank, time is short, and we cant spend all day answering your stupid questions. The leader said. Do you believe me Frank, that time is short?
At the moment Frank didnt know what he believed, but he nodded just the same. His mind was scrambling for a way out of this, for some way to keep Marci out of harms way, but so far he had come up empty, and the best he could do was to agree to whatever these two said and hope that Marci did not wake up.
Well, thats good, because time is short Frank, your time as well as ours. And because time is so short, weve had to improvise our recruitment methods. Do you follow me? The leader asked.
Good! He said. Very good. Now Frank, listen closely to this next question, because Im only going to ask you one time.
Ok, Frank said.
The way we see things Frank, is that there are only two types of people left in the world, those that are with us and those that are against us. Do you understand so far?
Frank nodded as his eyes darted back and forth between the two men.
Good. The leader said. Now, my question to you is simple. Are you with us Frank, or are you against us?
Frank stared at the barrel of the gun and thought deeply about the question and how he was supposed to answer it. He wasnt necessarily against these religious fanatics, but he sure as hell wasnt one of them either. He could not for the life of him imagine going door to door spouting drivel about the end times or trying to siphon money from the senile elderly. Still, he needed to answer the question.
I...I...I...dont know. Frank stammered.
The leader pulled on the slide of the pistol, chambering a round while the younger man pumped the shotgun.
Wait! Frank said. Im with you, Im with you. Jesus pleasus, just dont shoot me! To his horror, Frank found himself quite glad that his wife was dead and that she would not have to suffer through this ordeal or witness his cowardice.
What do you think Paul? Is he telling the truth? The leader asked.
Frank looked at the younger man, Paul, his eyes pleading, but Paul only shrugged. Hard to say, John.
Well, I think hes lying, and whoever heard of a disciple named Frank anyway? John said and then pulled the trigger.
Franks eyes widened in surprise, but he felt no pain as the bullet penetrated his skull just behind his right temple. The sound was excruciating however, and Frank thought he could hear each splinter of bone tear away from his skull and bore its way into his brain. Frank fell backward, his vision fading quickly to a dull black, and for the last time, he thought about Marci and hoped she was still sleeping.
John holstered the pistol, a Glock nine millimeter that he had stolen from an old man in Flint, Michigan late last year, and then turned to Paul. So, who lives next door? He asked. Anybody worth saving?
Michael Sanderson and Tiffiny Smith. Paul said, grinning. Unmarried couple, been living together in sin for three years, but dont you think we should check the rest of the house?
Nah. John said. Theres no one else here. Lets go next door and spread a bit more of the word. I want to get to the end of the block before nightfall.
A board creaked somewhere above them and they paused.
On the other hand, John said. A quick look upstairs wouldnt hurt.
November 14, 1998
Im tired of being alone so much
and Im tired of missing you
and Im tired of wanting a future with you
and Im tired of wanting you around me
sometimes I think when Im about to sleep
that the extra pillow could be you
as I said, maybe Im just dying for attention
maybe Ive been looking for
the wrong attention
By Kenneth C. Eng
When searching for truth, the most pertinent problem one must grapple with is refutation. That is why certainty is an essential issue to be addressed before any meaning can be derived from existence. It was certainty that the philosopher Rene Descartes was obsessed with, and it was this mania for sureness that drove him to doubt everything. However, while he asserted that his own consciousness was a truth, he never really went much farther than to say that everything else could be questioned. Little was he aware that there are entities in reality that must always be constants. Seventeen such elements are the most primary requisites or reality. These include: logic, consciousness, causality, a timeless genesis, a temporal genesis, destiny, time, space, spacetime, relativity, macrocosm, microcosm, quantum mechanics, uncertainty, unconsciousness, symmetry and asymmetry.
The first truth from which all others are drawn is LOGIC. Whereas inductive reasoning, the use of past events to presuppose the probabilities of future events, is by nature imperfect and incapable of attaining certainty, logic can never be defied. One can say that induction relies on the use of induction to be proven, and hence relies on unfounded circular reasoning, but one cannot declare that logic requires itself to be proven and is then equally unfounded. If one were to state that the only truth in the universe is the infinitely reflexive acknowledgement that there is no truth (similar to Descartes statement that it is possible to have a triangle that does not have three sides), then by sheer reason, I can declare that such a statement can only be made through the use of logic, which contradicts the very essence of an infinitely recursive nihilistic conjecture. Accordingly, logic is the only thing that can be proven true through circular logic, as it is in itself logical. Triangles will always have three sides and 1+1 will always equal 2.
By logic, one can deduce that CONSCIOUSNESS is the second constant in existence. There would be no universe if there were no consciousnesses to observe it, since quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle state that objects must be observed in order for them to be real. Thus, all physical entities would not be if there were no living beings to see, hear, taste, smell or feel them. That is not to say, of course, that awareness is confined to carbon-based organisms, for there is no way to disprove that inanimate objects do not have their own form of sentience. Rocks, wood, air, and even computers may even be able to experience the cosmos, thereby acting as observers and creating reality by feeling it. We as humans may not be used to visualizing the potential mindfulness of a chess piece, but perhaps we could view inanimate objects as having their own forms of genetic codes (the physical laws that govern the atoms that compose such objects) and better place into perspective the idea that the double helix does not necessarily have to be the only conduit to livelihood. There is also no way to controvert the possibility that ideas and abstract, immaterial things might be in some way alive, with their own genetic codes that are built solely of thought. In fact, since everything, including DNA, nebulae, atoms, molecules, etc., emerged from the Big Bang, it would make perfect sense that if we are aware, so must everything else be. So, the universe would not need DNA-based organisms to exist, as everything else in the cosmos was spawned from the same conscious beginning. Nonetheless, even if all things besides humans were not conscious, it would still not contradict the simple actuality that sentience is an inherent attribute of existence.
The next two imperative certainties are the beginnings. CAUSALITY implies that every event has a cause, and thusly, everything that happens is bound to a chain reaction that spans the entire universe. Like logic, causality operates on premises and conclusions (which are analogous to causes and effects), except that causality is based on time, and logic is based on mathematics and deduction. One might argue, ala Neils Bohr, that there are an infinite amount of causes in the universe, thereby rendering causality ridiculous. However, it is ridiculous in itself to assume that every event has an innumerable sum of antecedents, for paradoxes of infinities (ie. Zenos paradox) can be resolved by applying limits that everyone learned about in high school. Ergo, even though all entities are essentially built of an endless number of points, it is reasonable to view them as wholes (essences) that cannot truly be given exact measurement, yet can be understood like billiard balls on a cosmic pool table. Each one acts with determinable effects that can be noticed, but not quantified in absolute mathematical precision. Albeit choice is a factor amongst conscious things in the celestial sea, it too is trapped within this inescapable network of domino events that has already been preordained at the origin of the cosmos, when the very first events of the universe set off all future events. Therefore, there must be a meaning to life, and a start to times flow. A steady state universe would be impossible because it violates the laws of causality that operate similarly to and are as necessitous as logic.
One might then ask the age-old question of what happened before the Big Bang. If there was nothing before it, then it too must violate causality, right?
The Big Bang was a temporal origin that sparked the initiation of time. However, it is not to say that time was a requisite unto itself. The only other possible way for the universe to have emerged was through a non-temporal cause, an event that held an ultimate purpose and thereby manifested the meaning of life. This TIMELESS GENESIS would be an idea, thus linking logic (the un-timelike brother of causality) to its sibling, causality, and starting the universal timeline. Consequently, there were two dawns to existence - the Big Bang, which restricted all beings to DESTINY, and the timeless beginning that contains the sought-after purpose that every intelligent human seeks.
The certainty of TIME can be shown by the fact that causality is an innate part of the cause-effect consistency that makes the universal machine operate. Since causality is a definite element of being, and time is required for causality to turn, time is a constant. Events that obey causality also have to have SPACE in which to occur. Although a mind does not require a body, matter does need volumetric substance to establish shape, size and locality. Since the physical (as far as one can define the terminology) universe cannot exist without space, space must be real. Even entities in ones imagination have spatial parameters, except that those parameters are also imagined to an extent.
Furthermore, space and time are linked in that an observers state in existence changes the fabric of what is. Relativity generally relies on induction or experimentation to be true, but even without empirical evidence, it is still correct to say that ones mental conception changes the way the temporal and spatial dimensions flow. For example, most adolescents conceive five years to be a very long while, yet as people grow older, years seem to be perceived as shorter. This happens because the apprehension of times motion is determined according to the countless factors that constitute the beliefs of every human. In this case, the most prevalent constituent that causes older humans to perceive time in a more contracted way is the fact that they have lived longer, and thus, every passing year seems less significant. Likewise, if one were to move at the speed of light, light years would not seem so distant, whereas to an ordinary man, a hundred miles may sound far. This clearly proves that there is a link between volumetric and temporal parameters, as a man who can think and move at light speed would find spatial stretches to be more retrenched than a man who ponders at the velocity of a dolt. Therefore, it is absolute that SPACETIME is relative to ones internal mental and physical states and is malleable according to RELATIVITY. Note that relativity in this sense does not infer the laws of conventional special and general relativity, which assume quite blindly that traveling at the speed of light would cause time to dilate (conventional relativity is littered with unfounded physical constants obtained through induction).
Relativity only applies to one side of the universe - the MACROCOSM that is the large-scale world a conscious observer perceives. To us as humans, this would refer to buildings, houses, snakes, chessboards, etc. The other side of the universe, the MICROCOSM, is also in our perception, but it is the small-scale world that lies at the heart of every modicum of spacetime and matter. For instance, imagine a granite stone and all its surface imperfections. Imagine trying to catalog each and every one of those grooves and specks to total, flawless accuracy. The task, obviously, would be impossible, as there is an infinite amount of detail to everything that is real. Further, no matter how far we peer into something, there is no way we can determine whether or not fundamental particles like atoms, quarks and photons really do compose the entities we experience in our world. Who is to say that even the smallest of the known subatomic elements is foundational to matter? Perhaps the reason why physicists in the past few years have been finding swarms of new elementary particles is that there are an endless number of levels to which one can descend in size. Therefore, the only true and ultimately simple fragment of matter and space would be a zero-dimensional point (Also note that size would be relative, and that a macrocosm would still exist even if you were as large as a galaxy. The new macrocosm would just be on a larger scale).
These immeasurable points would be impossible to observe through a microscope, as they are literally infinite in smallness. However, what is apparent in all objects of the macrocosm is a level at which detail begins to get blurred and uncertain. One cannot determine, no matter how long he or she stares, how many bumps and grooves adorn a slab of granite, because even the best human eyes (or any eyes for that matter) still bear a degree of incertitude in their field of view. No one can access the infinite amount of detail inherent in all things, since the detail is not needed when it suffices just to gather overall impressions of objects. Besides, it would take a limitless amount of memory to encapsulate every bit of data the universe potentially has. So, this incertitude within our vision would represent the microcosm, which happens to obey the laws of QUANTUM MECHANICS that scientists have derived from experimentation and mathematical calculation. In quantum mechanics, everything is chaotic and ephemeral, things come out of nowhere, and particles can be in many places at once. Since one can never be certain of anything in the microcosmic realm, it is logical to state that the nature of quantum mechanics applies to reality.
UNCERTAINTY is in itself a certainty because anything we are not looking at may as well be embodied as a chaotic, wavelike mass. As the Uncertainty Principle states, it is possible to occupy multiple states of being when not observed by a conscious organism. Therefore, anything our senses cannot touch is intrinsically uncertain, including what is behind this paper/computer screen at the moment.
In addition, quantum mechanics appends another aspect to logic, space, time, and consciousness. These four elements of reality have their own quantum levels where infinity causes them to take on different, microcosmic forms. Logics uncertain angle would be the countless values that lie between any two integers (0 and 1, for example have limitless fractions between them). Spaces microcosm would be the 0 th Dimension, which is completely unobservable, and hence, contains all possible realities simultaneously in a multiverse (Uncertainty Principle). Time, if reduced to its quantum phase, would be similar to the 0 th Dimension, except that it would embrace all potential timelines that can be lived out, much like a record of all possible chess games that can be played. Patently, though, the number of possible realities is endless and the number of chess games is astronomical, but finite. The final microcosm would be the UNCONSCIOUS, the uncertain condition ingrained in the very depths of the conscious. The unconscious, even though it can never be overtly observed by the conscious, is by nature enshrouded in total mystery. There are ways, however, of deducing what its ultimate purpose is.
By the laws of causality, everything in life has a meaning. In fact, even the first law of thermodynamics demands that energy in a system cannot be destroyed or created, only converted. Similarly, events in the universe or multiverse should be kept in balance by laws of conservation that prevent any occurrence without a purpose from existing. After all, if something does not affect the universe, then why should it be classified as extant? It is okay to have dark matter, but doesnt matter is just unacceptable because it simply cannot be real if it has no affect on the real world. Accordingly, there is a balance or a SYMMETRY to the universe that maintains an equilibrium for all things, material and immaterial. Events and choices are like energy and matter, so it makes sense to view the harmony of causal proportion to that of thermodynamic proportion.
Symmetry in this sense is not exactly defined as the property of an equation to remain unchanged when its components are shifted. Regardless, it is still related to this quest to find a balanced equation. Having a causal function to everything in a line of unbreakable destiny is akin to having a perfectly beautiful equation, a goal that physicists strive for. It eliminates the need for nihilism and can give everyone the ease that the purpose of life is out there to be solved. Furthermore, symmetry is accepted by most physicists as an imperative requisite to a final comprehension of the cosmos and is even an explanation for why the anomalies (zeroes and infinities) of superstring theory cancel out so impeccably.
Thence, the meaning of the unconscious can be understood in that everything in the universe is connected and that the unconscious is the dominant controlling factor in the cosmos. The interconnectedness of all things is evident when one considers that everything emerged from a singular point in time and out of time (the non-temporal beginning). If we as individuals are cognizant, then it stands to reason that everything from which we evolved - apes, eukaryotes, DNA, primordial soup, stars, and even the Big Bang itself should also be sentient. Therefore, the sentience of the beginnings implies that there is a supreme force guiding everything in existence and that inevitable destiny is wrought by the choices of that supreme beings mental quantum level. Our own mindfulness is logically attached to this godlike entity and therefore, the unconscious is the directing rudiment that commands fate. The only reason why the conscious is separated from the unconscious is because sentience requires choice in order to exist (Without choice, we would not be able to think, therefore we would not be). That is why humans generally cannot see through time and view the inevitable destiny that will be later described in this tome.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that the universe is symmetrical in its causal side and maybe in its thermodynamic side, it is still asymmetrical in the fact that there is differentiation amongst things. Although water and mercury are both made of an infinite number of points, they are disparate by their essence. If space and time were wholly symmetrical, there would be no matter and no forward movement of the temporal dimension. Trees, rivers, landscapes and stones would not exist. Consequently, in order for change to occur, there must be an unbalanced face to the cosmos, one that allows for things to be different. This is not to say that I am contradicting myself, as the unevenness can be equipoised in a symmetrical arrangement. Therefore, there can be balance in unbalanced things. Symmetry and ASYMMETRY coexist. Even a balanced equation may have dissimilar variables within itself, and the coveted solution to relativistic quantum physics, if it exists, might have irregularities to it.
Thereupon, there are certainties to existence that can be proven through reason alone. The truths of logic, consciousness, causality, a timeless genesis, a temporal genesis, destiny, time, space, spacetime, relativity, macrocosm, microcosm, quantum mechanics, uncertainty, unconsciousness, symmetry and asymmetry are invincible and cannot be disproved, as they operate entirely on irrefutable premises. However, this is not the end what can be known, for knowledge without meaning is pointless. One must make extrapolations from these certainties, for only then can the true meaning of Ultimate Reality be elicited.
what is veganism?
A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don't consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.
This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.
so what is vegan action?
We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.
We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.
We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.
A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.
po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353
MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)
* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.
* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants
* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking
* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen
We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.
The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology
The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST's three principal projects are to provide:
* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;
* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST's SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;
* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.
The CREST staff also does "on the road" presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.
For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson
firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 289-0061
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